Mt. Baldy Overnight Hike

Last weekend I hiked up Mt. Baldy with a group of four: my friend, Chris, my brother, Jim, and Jim’s friend, Scott, and his son, Ryan. Mt. Baldy is the second highest mountain in Arizona at an elevation of 11,424. However, the summit is within the boundaries of the White Mountain Apache Reservation and is off limits unless you have permission to access it. We did not have that permission, so we went as high as the trail would allow, where East Baldy Trail #95 connects to West Baldy Trail #94 at about 11,175 feet of elevation.

I drove up with Chris Friday night after work to the Big Lake campground. We arrived about ten o’clock at night and ended up sleeping in the SUV. Next morning, we woke early and met with the rest of our group and headed to the East Baldy Trail 95 trailhead after we left two shuttle vehicles at the West Baldy Trail 94 trailhead. There is a three mile connector trail, #96, between each trailhead that makes the whole loop approximately 17 miles, but we decided on foregoing the connector trail as it is an uneventful walk through the woods.

We started up East Baldy 95 which takes you in and out of a tree line along a pleasant green meadow and gradually inclines into thicker woods and brings you through some very impressive granite rock spires and formations that I was surprised to see in this area of Arizona. The trail winds up through these rock giants and up the mountain until you find yourself on top of a range of these boulders that stretches a good portion of the mountaintop. From up here you get a great view of the surrounding land and Big Lake without the obstruction of any trees in the way.

At this point, approximately four miles in, my brother decided he would turn back due to headaches, shortness of breath, and chest pains as he did not want to get too far in and become an emergency situation. Sad to see him go, but understandable that he should play it safe, we parted ways. Two of our party were already far ahead of us, but it didn’t take Scott and I long to catch up with them.

Once we passed through the stretch of boulders, the path was obstructed with frequent downed logs. We had to climb over and under and around them for most of the remaining trail. We caught up to Chris and Ryan and carried on. Shortly after, we came upon a meadow of tall, green grass on top of the mountain of thick woods and found pieces of a fuselage from an old military plane (Beech AT-11) that crashed there in 1943. Not far after that, we reached trail 94.

The highest point we could go without violating Reservation boundaries was the junction of 94 and 95. If you had permission from the White Mountain Apache Reservation, you could follow signs south that would take you to the true peak. However, we continued onto East Baldy 94. At that point we had hiked approximately six miles and we had plenty of daylight ahead of us. From the boulder area where we parted with Jim to this point, the elevation grade was very low, so we were able to cover more ground quickly. Since it was all downhill from that intersection on (an intense decline on the trail), we kept up with that pace, and probably could have gone faster if it weren’t for the downed trees creating obstacles.

Since we were on a mountainside for most of the descent on 94, there was no where we could have pitched a tent for the night due to lack of flat ground and so many fallen trees. And with plenty of daylight still, we kept going and eventually met with the Little Colorado. This is where the land began to even out and we started looking for a good camp spot. We eventually found one in a nice little clearing that had soft ground and good tree coverage. At that point, we had hiked about 11 miles. We pitched our tents, made dinner, and settled down for the night.

The next morning, we spotted a coyote traipsing across the hillside down the trail from us as we drank coffee and made our breakfast. Ryan and Scott packed up and headed out before me and Chris. We said our goodbyes, finished breakfast, then packed up and headed out about a half hour after them.

The rest of the hike out was relaxing and we enjoyed the scenery as we paralleled the Little Colorado for the last three miles. At the end of the trail we met up with Jim and exchanged accounts of what each of us did after we parted. We then went back to Big Lake, rented a boat, and fished for about four hours.

More accurately, I sat in a boat getting sunburned with a string floating in the water. I caught nothing, maybe a few taunting hits at my lure, Chris had a few bites, and Jim came out victorious with two fish, each about seven inches long. But it was a great way to end a great hike.

 

Sycamore Canyon: Just a Taste

I recently took the time to go up to Sycamore Canyon, which I’ve been wanting to do since I’ve heard great things about it. I was not disappointed, and I didn’t even hike that much of the lush canyon. Due to time constraints, we only hiked approximately 2.5 miles (in and out) to Summers Spring of Parsons Trail, and just getting a glimpse of that little bit has made me want to go back and hike the full length of the 11-something miles.

Just north of Cottonwood and Clarkdale, the trailhead is accessible from Forest Road 131 in the Verde Valley. You will need a vehicle with some ground clearance for this road. All wheel or 4 wheel drive isn’t a must, but helpful.

We caught great weather, and it was nice and green along the creek at the bottom of the canyon. There wasn’t much strenuous climbing over obstacles, or a lot of up and down, but you will have to cross the creek at various points.

It was so much fun, and I can’t wait to go back for the rest.

Escudilla Mountain: Arizona’s Hidden Gem

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of going on one of the most serene and beautiful hikes here in Arizona. Located in eastern Arizona not far from the small town of Alpine, Escudilla Mountain is the third highest stand-alone peak in the state at 10,912 ft. The trail does not lack in its challenges, but does not have that sharp incline you’d expect from its high elevation.

I call it a hidden gem, but it’s fairly accessible. It just didn’t have that foot traffic and popularity you find at most other trails in AZ. You need to take a forest service road to get to the trailhead and I think that’s a contributing factor as to why I didn’t see a lot of hikers on the trail. Could also be that it’s a long drive from Phoenix. Could also have been that it rained all day the previous Friday, and rained again while we were on the trail that Saturday. But I thought that was perfect. The weather was cool. the overcast blocked the harsh AZ sun from beating down on you. The trail wasn’t hard and dusty. Sure, a little muddy, but nothing too bad. The rain didn’t come down heavy, just that soft, constant drizzle.

The overall hike took my friend and I about four hours from the trail head and back. We could have done it faster, but we took advantage of the photo opportunities the views had to offer. Once the trail takes you up past Profanity Ridge, it opens up to this rolling meadow between two hill peaks and you can really see the landscape for the first time. And of course, it’s even better from the top.

Also, Profanity Ridge is about as much of a challenging incline as you’re going to get. The rest of the trail seemed like a nice, leisurely walk through some open meadows and thickets of Aspen and the bare remnants of trees that looked like dried out matchwood from the Wallow Fire that hit the area back in 2011. We were just walking along, talking and taking pictures, and before we knew it, we were at the top where a fenced off, dilapidated watchtower stood. It was from up there you could really see the extent of the damage the fire did. However, it is still a beautiful area and well worth the drive time and bumpy forest service road.

Video

Who We Are Video

This video is a little long for our lack of patience on the internet, but it is definitely worth watching. This beautifully shot and produced video takes a look at what hunting means for these guys, and I think their words ring true for a lot of hunters these days.

Like he says in the video, hunting can be a controversial topic, so whether you agree with the practice or not I think a better understanding of it can be learned from their video.

Link

Camping Hacks and Tricks Link

It’s the season for camping. This link here has some cool camping hacks and great ideas for the rustic past time.

I’ve been around friends who’ve used the rosemary trick and can say it works to keep bugs away. I’ve also used the water jug lantern idea.

Happy Camping!

Havasupai Hike 2015

This was my third time completing the Havasupai trail on the Havasupai Indian Reservation, and the beauty and grand scale of it all still amazes me. It had been approximately 13 years since I was last down there, and even after the incredible flood that altered the landscape back in the monsoon season of 2008, I still see this little canyon as a paradise.

Once you get past the dry beds of the trail during the first eight miles of the hike and down into the lower riverbed areas of the village and beyond, you see the landscape change into pockets of green cottonwoods, honey mesquite and foliage.

The Havasupai Creek that creates the falls and shapes the land is a tributary to the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, and as I followed it from the village to the campsite for another two miles, I was in awe to see how drastically the land had been changed by the 2008 flood. Huge portions of land had been eroded away, the topsoil now unstable and the trees it holds are dead.

That flood created a whole new series of falls prior to the main attraction of Havasupai Falls called 50 Foot Falls. It changed the Havasupai Falls from its split stream to one. The camp grounds are completely changed with thickets of saplings and islands where there weren’t any before.

However, it’s still the same hike in and the same hike out. The challenge in the hike is the distance. Eight miles from the trailhead to the village and two more miles from the village to the campsite, all while carrying your pack. The hike out is worse, only because of the switchbacks out of the canyon to the trailhead. It’s tough, but it can be done. The hike out, we did 10 miles in four hours, and felt great for having met the challenge and exceeding our expectations.

The biggest challenge for me, and the most fun of the whole trip, was the descent down Mooney Falls. You enter a tunnel in the rock with steps of stone that brings you to the edge of the cliff where you have to scale down on a treacherous system of ladders and chains nailed into the rock wall. Each step is wet and muddy from the mists of the falls and there is nowhere to look but down.

I had to have a serious conversation with myself about completing this, and forced myself to meet this challenge. Once my feet were on good, solid ground, I was elated and proud. Being a person who has a problem with heights, I’m glad I forced myself to do it.

This wasn’t the most challenging and physically demanding backpacking trip I’ve been on, but still worth every minute.

Gallery

Camping and Lava River Cave

This post is a little late. I went camping over Labor Day weekend, which was a much needed and fun little vacation spent relaxing next to the camp fire and hiking.

I got the chance to see the Lava River Cave near Kendrick Peak just west of Flagstaff. It was a pretty amazing experience to walk through this 700, 000 year old tunnel. I unfortunately did not get many good pictures as the only light available was from my headlamp, or from residual light from others’ headlamps and flashlights. At points, you have to crouch low to get through, and other points the ceiling is a couple stories high. It was probably one of the coolest things I’ve seen.